New on the Layout – British Rail Class 158 DMU

The layout’s a bit of a mess right now. A few weeks ago I decided that it was finally time to start moving forward with landscaping out the West Side Yard. Things have been sorted from the edge of the layout on the west side from the Centerville West Station towards the Yard tracks with ground cover going to the innermost track and grey painted cork acting as paved paths between the tracks for visitors. But the rest of the area in the “historic museum” section has been unfinished for quite some time.

For the past few weeks the yard itself has been empty so I could work in the area and not brush against trains. But it means that there’s engines and rolling stock all over the layout both on track and off while work moves forward in the yard. Hopefully I’ll be able to start moving stuff back in another week or two, I don’t expect that the entire west side of the layout will be done, but I’ll need to figure out what I want to do with the next segment.

Even with a few busy weeks at work, and the landscaping, and a trip out of town there’s still additions coming to the layout – with the latest being a Graham Farish British Rail Class 158 DMU in First Great Western green.

Given that most of the equipment on the layout is North American, the addition of a British DMU in GWR colors probably seems like an odd choice… But the layout is a “railroad museum” and this museum is more than happy to acquire and run trains from around the world – remember, there are a few Shinkansen in the collection too…

As for the model, this is my first ever Graham Farish model and it came both fully lighted and with a factory installed Zimo MS590N18 DCC/sound decoder.

When I decided that I wanted to add a British DMU to the collection I really wanted a DCC/sound unit because I wanted to make sure I could get the distinctive British two tone air horn…

But stepping back to the model. Graham Farish offers several different version of the Class 158 with markers for Regional railways, GWR, ScotRail, Arriva Wales, East Midlands, Northern, and Central Trains. If you get the DC version they do take a drop in Next18 DCC decoder, one is needed for each unit. The DCC/Sound units ship with a blank Next18 compatible “filler” so if you wanted to revert the model to DC only you could – not sure why you’d spend the money to do it, but if you wanted to you could.

I had heard from somebody a few years ago that Bachmann’s quality took a major step up when they purchased Graham Farish – I don’t know if one was related to the other, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s true.

I don’t think my phone really does this model justice, everything on it looks very crisp in person, and like Bachmann’s SC-44’s there are a lot of fine details all over the engines. As an American who watches British Railroads from a far, I can’t speak with authority on the accuracy of the details – but there is a lot of detailing.

Just opening the box and pulling the first unit out, I was really impressed.

Well, I was – until one of the wheels fell out of the jewel case and rolled off…

No harm no foul though, I crawled under the train table and snapped it into place and things seemed to be going well.

I do know that the prototype these are based on run as permanently mated two car sets with a “bespoke” permanent coupler between the two cars. The N scale version has their own bespoke coupler, although it’s probably not prototypical.

That custom coupler, besides carrying current between the two carriages also allows the two cars to be coupled fairly close together without issues. These cars need to run pretty close together as passengers are supposed to be able to cross the gangway between the cars, so a big gap wouldn’t look right.

I don’t know what magic Graham Farish pulled to make that close coupling work – but it works, unlike the Rapido Comet cars that don’t run particularly well on curves with the stock short shank couplers and only run slightly better with medium shank couplers.

But let’s loop back to that Zimo decoder. It does A LOT, and that’s ignoring that it’s got specific options for diesel and electric engines baked into it. Configuring it in JMRI reveals 31 TABS of options, by comparison, the ESU LokSound Micro 5 has just 15 tabs. There is a lot you can do to customize how your engine operates.

I don’t have video of the engine and sounds yet, that’s going to wait a few weeks for when things are a bit cleaner on the layout. But there’s a few things that are a little different than I’ve come to expect from the North American stuff I’ve run with DCC decoders. The biggest that I’m used to is that Function 1 is typically a bell, and Function 2 is typically a horn on my US models. Not having a bell at Function 1, isn’t a surprise as that’s really a US thing. But on the Class 158, Function 1 starts the engine and Function 2 is the Brake. Not just a Brake sound, it’s the actual Brake

The Brake function is something I’m struggling to figure out. The train doesn’t stop if you just throttle down – you have to also use the braking function to do it. But it’s not just pull the throttle down and then hit F2, because and I can only assume it’s because you’ve drained the “air” with the brake at some point the thing will take off again even if the throttle is all the way down.

From the instructions:

F2 will not work unless the throttle has been reduced before F2 is engaged. Once reduced, applying F2 will increase the deceleration rate until the reduced setting is reached. If you want to bring your locomotive to a standstill you must reduce the throttle to zero before applying the brakes.

There’s some interesting intelligence built into the decoder too. If the engine is moving, the Dispatch Whistle at F9 doesn’t sound. On the other hand, the whistles don’t blow if the engine isn’t moving, and that two tone whistle – the faster the train is running, the longer the tones.

I’ve got to say, I really like this DMU set. It looks really good, has some great sound and a lot of function packed into that Next18 decoder. As much as I’d love to get more of them – I’m not sure I will though because the detail and the functionality comes at a cost. From Rails of Sheffield, these DMU sets are around 270GBP which as of today is just over $350. List price from Graham Farish is actually 369GBP.

The last thing I’ll throw in for now is that this engine has needed some running in. It was a little jerky out of the box but after a few loops of the layout is running much smoother.

I hope to have an update with video and maybe some better photos in a few weeks.